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Teen piercing trends: Earlobe gauging, stretching and body piercing

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

What parents need to know

Piercings and teenagers go hand-in-hand. Like clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, piercings offer teens a way to express themselves. If your teen has expressed interest in piercings, especially in stretching or gauging the earlobe, there are a few things you should know.

Teen with tongue ring

When done properly, piercing is safe. Elayne Angel is the author of The Piercing Bible – The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing and the Medical Liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) and recommends following standard safety precautions for a safe piercing experience:

  • the piercing should be done in a hygienic facility by a trained, experienced worker
  • sterile, disposable equipment should be used
  • jewelry of the correct material, size, and style should be inserted
  • proper aftercare instructions should be followed

Tongue and nose piercings in teens

Tongue and nose piercings are pretty common among today's teens. And while many parents are over the shock factor, they still worry that tongue and nose piercings are unsanitary.

>> 6 Ways to tame teen behavior

Contrary to popular belief, Angel says oral piercings are not especially prone to infection. The mouth and nose have tremendous defensive strategies. In fact, the mouth is one of the fastest healing sites in the body. A tongue piercing can heal in six-to-eight weeks, says Angel, while a navel piercing can take up to nine months to heal.

A new trend -- stretching

Have you seen earlobe piercings that are large enough to look through? Check out a picture of earlobe gauging here. It's sometimes referred to as gauging, but "piercers loathe the term gauging," says Angel. "We call it stretching. And the jewelry worn in stretched pierces -- plugs, eyelets, talons, and other jewelry designs – should never be called gauges."

Whatever the name, it's an unsettling trend. What motivates a person to do this? Is it dangerous? Can it be undone?

Why stretch your ear?

Andrew B. has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, but his decision to stretch his earlobes wasn't about nonconformity or rebellion. "I saw a guy with [stretching] at a pizza shop and thought it was pretty cool," says Andrew.

Andrew's parents weren't thrilled with his decision to put giant holes in his earlobes, but "I told them it was no different than my mom copying a hairstyle she liked," says Andrew.

How stretching is done

For stretching, Angel recommends going up no more than one size at a time. "You must allow sufficient time between each enlargement," Angel says, "for the tissue to fully regain its suppleness and integrity." Angel explains that skin is resilient if it's not abused.

When an individual becomes impatient and tries to force the piercing, the consequences can be severe. "Overstretching can result in a buildup of scar tissue and reduction of flexibility," warns Angel. This can make it difficult to stretch in the future or to shrink back to normal.

How teens sneak stretching by parents

It's this slow speed of stretching that also lets teens sneak the process right by their parents. One mother said she had no idea her son was stretching his earlobes until it was too late. "I was fine with his pierced ears," she says, "and I just thought he was wearing bigger and stranger earrings. I didn't know it was a means to this end."

So, how do you un-do it?

Next page: How to repair a stretched or gauged ear

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